Don’t Be the “Thumbs Up Dad”

Every time Suzie touches the volleyball, whether she gets an ace or messes up the play, she looks up at her dad. When she makes an error, Dad gives her a calming hand gesture and mouths the words, “It’s OK.” When she rocks the play, he gives her that iconic thumbs up with the ecstatic facial expression that goes with it. We all know the look because we have all done it at one time or another.

Don’t be the “Thumbs Up Dad (or Mom).” You have been and probably always will be your daughter’s biggest fan. However, you are hurting her if you are giving her your constant feedback. Don’t make her feel like she must impress you to feel good about playing the game of volleyball.

I feel I can say this because I’m a parent also. I know what it feels like to look down at your athlete at practice and see her goofing off or not absorbing every detail of what the coach is trying to teach her. It takes every ounce of energy to not yell across the gym, “KNOCK IT OFF.”

In an article written by Steve Henson, he shares that hundreds of college athletes were asked, “What is the worst memory from playing youth sports?” The majority responded, “The ride home from games with my parents.” Click here to read the entire article

Your athlete spends a minimum of 4 hours per week at practices being told over and over what she needs to do to correct a problem. She doesn’t need to be reminded of it when she gets in the car. She really wants to hear you say, “I loved watching you play today. What do you want to eat?”

It is really hard to coach an athlete that needs to be complimented every time she does something well. As a coach, our job is to give an athlete the tools she needs to not only succeed at the game but to be able to coach herself through a situation. Athletes need to be able to embrace a mistake. The truth is, volleyball is a game of mistakes. The team that makes the least mistakes usually wins. We must trust the process.

As a parent, please know that your daughter is going to make mistakes. She is going to make a lot of them. The mistake may happen on set point, or on a really easy ball. She can’t look to you for guidance or acceptance on every ball. We as parents need to teach our athletes to accept the mistakes, own up to them, and move forward.

How do we make sure we are not the “Thumbs Up Dad?”

  1. Cheer on the Good Plays – This means all of them. I respect a parent who sits quietly in the stands and cheers respectfully even when the other team makes a great play. I hate it when a parent only gets excited when their daughter makes a great play. I hate it when a parent throws their hands in the air and makes that loud grunting noise of disgust when their athlete misses her serve or hits the ball into the net. Cheer on the good plays and be quiet on the rest.
  2. Bring a Good Book – We see parents all the time that watch their athlete like a hawk at practice. It’s very noticeable from the practice court. This is where we see the “Thumbs Up Dad,” the most. Instead of straining to hear what the coach says to your athlete after a mistake, bring a good book, and sit on the couches that are turned away from the courts. Allow yourself to miss some of the action. Imagine what your reaction will be when you get to watch your athlete at the next tournament and see the amazing improvements she has made because of her hard work at practice.
  3. Let your Athlete Bring Up the Game in the Car – If your daughter wants to talk about the tournament, she will. She may even ask your advice. The best thing you can say is, “I think you did great today. What did your coach say about your performance?” Each coach has a game plan and a process he follows. He can’t teach your daughter everything in one day. The team’s focus may have been on communication for the tournament. If your athlete communicated to the standards the coach was asking, she succeeded. Ask your daughter to share with you what the team’s focus was. She may love teaching you about what she is learning.
  4. When do you step in? – You should step in to give advice when your daughter is not showing respect for the coach or the team. If your daughter gets in the car and says, “My coach has no idea what he’s talking about.” Please remind her that it isn’t her job to know what’s going on in the head of a coach. It is her job to stick to the game plan and win. We need her to respect the club, the coach, and her teammates. We all know the scenario when an athlete gets subbed out of the game. The subs stand together touching hands like an elongated high five for approximately 30 seconds waiting for the scorekeeper to record the substitution. You see the face of the athlete being removed from the game as cold, upset, and disappointed. The face of the athlete that is going into the game is excited and motivated. Imagine if the athlete coming out of the game fixed her face and said to her teammate, “You’ve got this; you’re going to do great out there!” She would empower her teammate/friend to succeed. As coaches, we cannot stand it when an athlete leaves a game pouting. She should go to the end of the bench and be the loudest cheerleader. We need to teach our athletes to be excited for the team in all moments even when it’s hard.

Don’t get me wrong, I want you to cheer on your athlete and her teammates. However, I want to encourage you to spend the next tournament watching someone other than your daughter. If you criticized that athlete the way you criticize your daughter, how would that athlete feel? We appreciate that you have allowed us to teach your daughter the game of volleyball. Now bring a good book and trust the process.